By Jenny Neyman
The bachelor auction fundraiser for Relay for Life on April 6 at Main Street Grill in Kenai was a perfectly mild, mannerly affair, with the decorous ladies shyly placing polite bids on the restrained gentlemen, who wouldn’t dream of displaying any behavior as uncouth as bidding rivalry, or unbuttoning their shirt, or — heaven forbid — laughing at comments that could be construed to refer to certain areas of physiology.
In about the same way that cancer is a perfectly mild, mannerly disease, never causing pain or chaos, or bankrupting victims, or devastating families and friends.
Cancer fights dirty, so why should fundraisers to fight it be completely clean?
“Take it off!”
“Flex for me!”
“Tell us about your package!”
So went the catcalls from the crowd, their bidder numbers snapping above their heads like pennant flags at a NASCAR racetrack, their shrieks, cheers and whistles occasionally howling even above the auctioneer and his microphone.
The scene got more raucous as the evening went on, but even at its most outrageous it was all in good, mostly clean fun. And the most outrageous part, according to Johna Beech, Relay for Life’s central peninsula chair, was the evening’s success — $8,015 raised to help fight cancer.
Not bad for a first-time event — not only first time as a Relay fundraiser, but first time around here for anything, ever, in anyone’s memory. As such, Beech went into the night estimating conservatively.
“I have no idea what to expect from this. In my mind, if we got $100 per bachelor I’d be excited,” she said.
By the end, her conservative estimate went out the window, along with inhibitions, decorum and bidders’ budgets.
“I can’t believe this — $8,015,” Beech said. “I just, wow. Did that really just happen?”
Which that? Bachelor No. 9’s shirt coming off? Bachelor No. 11 fetching $1,000?
Yes, on all accounts.
The 16 bachelors “sold” for an average of about $400, each coming with a package of activities and prizes, provided by the bachelor or donated from various businesses and individuals, including personal training, spa treatments, a kayaking trip, eight hours of “honey-do” handyman labor, fishing, private cooking lessons, a brewing lesson at Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop, a photo shoot and a charcoal grill.
And, yes, snicker away. The “package” jokes were made in every version imaginable.
Shawn Norman, service adviser at Kenai Peninsula Harley-Davidson, had Relay volunteers arrange his donation package with his employer, including motorcycle riding lessons.
“They were telling my boss, ‘Shawn’s package is really big,’ and, ‘We’re working on his package,’ and, ‘I was running around going crazy getting your package together,’” he said.
At the pre-auction orientation meeting Beech explained how the donation items, services and activities came together, leading to some questions that were beside the point, but inevitable given the audience of 16 somewhat-nervous guys.
“How much is my package worth?” and, “Who has the biggest package?”
“You know what? All your packages are great. All our packages are equal,” Beech said.
“You are forever in our hearts for doing this,” she said.
The donation packages, raffle items and split-the-pot drawing were nice additions, but there was no mistaking the men as the main event.
When Beech suggested the auction to the local Relay committee this year, they were all for the idea and set about finding and recruiting eligible bachelors. They had to be single and eligible to date — “Not actively dating anyone, not separated pending divorce, no baby mama in the basement,” Beech said.
They also had to have a clean background check and be gainfully employed and personable.
“We wanted to make sure we were presenting good guys, because there are women who are coming for it to be a fundraiser and there are women coming to actually find a bachelor, and so we wanted to make sure they were able to date if they wanted to,” Beech said.
“A couple of the girls knew some of the guys so they pulled them in. Then it was just randomly going up to guys and going, ‘Hey, are you single? Would you like to raise some money?” she said.
The response was varied.
“Some were pretty easy and some of them you had to kind of talk them through it, because they’re actually really nervous about this,” Beech said, as one of her recruits, Tony Oliver, a borough employee, walked by.
“I love you,” she told him.
“I hate you,” he answered.
Beech and Oliver are in a triathlon training program together, “So I didn’t have a choice,” he said. “Plus, it’s raising money for a good cause.”
But that doesn’t mean he was participating without trepidation.
“I’m nervous before I do every triathlon, and I’ve done 40 some, but nothing like this. This is butterfly city,” Oliver said.
Chris Blouin, a sales manager at Magnum Motors, got a call from one of the Relay volunteers.
“I was on vacation in Cali and I get this phone call from Janet, ‘Hey, are you single?’” Blouin said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, why?’ ‘Oh we’ve got this bachelor auction going, do you want to be in it?’”
Auctioneer Jason Ness got roped in through the same, “I know a guy” approach.
“I’m friends with (one of the organizers). She knew me from work awhile ago, knew I was outgoing and secure in my manhood, so she called me up,” Ness said. “I’ve never done auctioneer stuff before. But I’d be way more nervous if I were in their shoes.”
The bachelors, that is. Fortifying with a round of liquid courage before the women arrived.
“I’m nervous as hell,” said Paul Frazier, a turbine mechanic with Tesoro, who served five years in the Marines. “I’ve been to war, I’ve started a new job three different times, been all over the country. But walking in front of a bunch of judgmental women and getting auctioned off might be the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I would rather get on a plane and go back to war than do this, I’m not gonna lie to you. I know what to expect there. I don’t know with this.”
Though there was some pre-auction mouth-running over who would draw the biggest bid, most of the bachelors just didn’t want the ultimate nightmare of standing in front of a silent crowd not getting any bids at all.
“I’m thinking about finding a girl and slipping her some money and be like, ‘OK, here’s a hundred, you gotta bid on me,” said Jake Eveland, a teacher, of Kasilof.
“I’m just bummed that I’m the last one that gets to go,” said Blouin. “When everyone’s broke, that’s when I get to go up there and it’ll be like, ‘50 bucks?’ Even though she said they’re going to start all the bids at $100.”
The situation called for strategy. Beech did her best to give some pointers for the cocktail mixer hour, when the women arrived to interact with the bachelors.
“So here’s the game when talking to women,” Beech began, when she was interrupted by the guys: “Wait, let me take notes!”
“Yeah, this is a moment that y’all need to take notes on,” she continued. “When talking to women, they will ask questions about yourselves. Answer but turn it back to them. Act like you’re listening to them, interact with them, ask them questions. We know tonight, it’s actually all about all y’all, but with women, don’t make it all about you.”
Some were contemplating dance moves. Others had no plan other than stand there and hope for the best.
“I think Chris is going to put his swagger on. Justin (Kuchinski) is going to put his stagger on. And I have no idea,” Norman said.
Anthony Murray, a river rafting guide, of Soldotna, was looking forward to the mixer hour.
“It’s a switch. Instead of us going up to the girls, the girls are now coming up to us,” he said.
Indeed they did. About 60 tickets sold in advance of the auction, with additional women paying entry at the door. Some were there because it was a Relay for Life fundraiser, others because they were interested in some of the auction items, more so than the bachelors attached to them (many packages could be taken with or without the bachelor). Some were there with the hope of a date, and some a little of all the above.
“The honey-do stuff is not bad but it would be nice to have a date,” said Margy Harford. “It’s difficult to meet people around here, and I do respite care for my parents so I don’t get out much. It’s really hard to meet people, and this sounded interesting and entertaining, so I figured I’d give it a shot. And it’s for an amazing cause. My mom actually has cancer, so it’s amazing they do stuff like this.”
Her companion, Sierra Lehl, was there for the entertainment value and for her friend.
“I’m a wing woman. I’m married. It just seemed like something different that they don’t do around here. So I decided to come and help support Margie for the night. I’m also going to help filter men. I’ll knock them down if they’re not up to par,” Lehl said.
Kelli Brewer, an event volunteer, came with a dual mission. She had her eye on Norman, though for a different reason than many of the ladies. Brewer is married but came to support the Relay cause and to win herself Harley riding lessons, as that’s been on her bucket list.
She had to put up a serious fight to get her wish, as Norman ended up causing a bidding war.
“Right here, buddy,” Brewer shouted, holding her bidder number in the air, raising to $350.
A few of the previous bachelors had experimented with undoing a couple shirt buttons to up the bids, but Norman’s was the first to come off completely. Flexing tattooed biceps in his undershirt, he netted a $475 final price.
The biggest bid of the night was for Dan Brophy, facilities manager with Arctic Petroleum Products, who came with a round-trip flight and tour of the Pebble deposit site across Cook Inlet. That went for $1,000, no shirt removal required.
And Blouin, for his concern about money being spent before him, didn’t have to worry, as bidding only picked up as the night went on, netting $575 for his car-care package. Frazier, the Marine, braved his tour before the unknown and netted $475 for his barbecue package, complete with a grill and, as auctioneer Ness put it, “16 pounds of meat, need I say more?”
More than enough for some pride, and a contribution to a good cause.
“My grandmother, my grandfather and my aunt all died from cancer, so it hit my family pretty hard,” Blouin said.
Cancer isn’t usually on the forefront of anybody’s mind while hanging out in a bar on a Saturday night, but people in any demographic aren’t immune from its effects.
“My mother died of cancer about six years ago, and my 11-year-old is a four-year survivor so far,” said Laura Niemczyk, Relay organizer.
Penny Furnish, another Relay organizer, said her grandfather had cancer, “Back in the day when all they did was cut you open and just radiate the heck out of you. My dad had cancer and there was a lot of progress (in treatment). My sister-in-law had breast cancer and she’s a 12-year survivor now. You watch the advancements, and a big part of it is because of what the American Cancer Society and their research and their funding does to make people survivors, and hopefully for a cure.”
Beyond the bidding and biceps, that’s what the evening was really about, Beech said.
“You guys being here tonight are helping us with the fight back, because you’re helping to raise money for the American Cancer Society,” she said.
Alyson Stogsdill, who jokingly called herself the grandma of the Relay group, is a cancer survivor and she was thrilled to see a way to bring the fight for a cure to a whole new demographic.
“When the girls were talking about it I thought it was wonderful because it brings in a whole new part of the community,” Stogsdill said. “Sometimes we don’t think about them and how cancer might have affected their lives, and they might want to give back. The longer you live, the more chance you have of having that experience in your life, whether it’s you or your family or whatever. So to get the younger generation involved in the fight is a really good idea. They’re all having a lot of fun and it’s all for a good cause.”